More than a face in the crowd… Andy Griffith passes away at 86

One of my favorite actors, Andy Griffith, died today, at the age of 86. If you’re not familiar with his work outside of the Mayberry R.F.D. universe, which is brilliant, by the way, I’d encourage you watch A Face in the Crowd (1957) by the controversial director Elia Kazan. (Kazan, as you may recall, outed several of his friends as Communists before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952, ending many a promising career in Hollywood.) In the film, Griffith plays Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, an angry alcoholic drifter who shoots to fame practially overnight by spinning folksy (made-up) tales of small town America. It’s an incredibly visionary piece of work, which foretold, among other things, the rise of celebrity culture in the United States and the popularity of television-enabled con men like Glenn Beck, who drive big ratings by connecting with the masses through the telling of “simple truths” (which are actually anything but), all while serving the political ends of their corporate masters. Here’s the trailer.

[If you’re a Netflix subscriber, you can order the film here.]

I know that Griffith has become a bit of a joke in later life, but his work in the 50s and 60s was really incredible. I’m particularly struck, every time I watch the Andy Griffith Show, by how laid back he is, and how generous he is with other actors. I don’t know that there are too many stars out there, either then or now, that would insist on just sitting back and whittling while someone like Don Knotts took all the laughs. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I really think that speaks to the man’s character. And, for what it’s worth, I also think it reflects well on him that Ron Howard, who is probably the only well-adjusted child actor produced by the Hollywood system, grew up in his shadow. I suppose there’s a chance that Griffith was an asshole in the real world, and I’m willing to accept that, but, as I sit here now, curled up in a sweaty ball, hacking away with a summer cold, I think that he was probably one of the better men that I’ve welcomed into my living room through the tiny portal we call television.

note: I was also going to link to the monologue that first made Griffith famous, back in 1953, but every copy was yanked from the internet this morning. The piece is called What it Was, Was Football, and clearly someone in the Griffith family has intentions of putting it back on the market now that he’s dead. The popularity of the recording, in which Griffith, portraying a rural preacher who stumbles into his first college football game by accident, got Griffith a slot on the Ed Sullivan Show, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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  1. Anonymous Mike
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    If you have Netflix streaming you can watch the first episode of The Andy Griffith Show right this instant.

  2. Eel
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Now we have Larry the Cable Guy and Jeff Foxworthy showing us what southern men are like. Evolution is real. Things just keep getting better and better.

  3. Elviscostello
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    A Face in the Crowd! Lonesome Roads should have garnered an Oscar nomination for Andy. He played against type and was fantastic! Great movie!

  4. Elviscostello
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Also great in No Time for Sargeants!

  5. Edward
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Slate has posted a number of clips from A Face in the Crowd.

  6. Posted July 3, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I absolutely hated the Andy Griffith show. I can find nothing at all redeeming about it.

  7. Posted July 3, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Matlock f’in rocks. I’m serious. I used to watch it on late night TV on Sunday nights (I think it came on at midnight…stfu, that’s late night for me!)

  8. Posted July 3, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Pete, I’m not a huge fan of the genre, but the Andy Griffith Show is great for what it is. It has heart without being overly saccharine. The characters are complex, and viewers care about them. Granted, the show didn’t hit on a lot of big issues, like race and poverty, like they could have, but no one was at the time. I’d argue, however, that the show opened the door in some ways to others that would. While I don’t know that the show broke a lot of new ground in a technical sense, like I Love Lucy did, for instance, I think the quality of the writing, and the work on the cast, makes it deserving of the term classic. Yes, though, I’d rather watch Arrested Development, Get A Life, etc. Still, I can acknowledge its greatness.

  9. Meta
    Posted July 3, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Griffith also did ads in support of Obamacare.

  10. Posted July 4, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    I suppose Matlock is OK. Given that he exists in the same genre as Columbo, though, I’m afraid, in my eyes, he will always pale in comparison.

  11. Edward
    Posted July 6, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Some things said about Andy Griffith by Republicans after his death, as collected by Boing Boing:

    Progressive POS. Have fun burning in Hell for eternity. — Red Meat

    Good people don’t promote laws that will directly lead to the death of millions, hope someday I get to spit on his grave. — Swampy

    So long Andy [smiley emoticon] You are a total sell out to this great nation. You are a communist piece of garbage and you will not be missed. — Truthbeliever2

    Sadly, my first thought when I saw the headline was “if he’d passed away at age 82 I would have missed him so much more” … Now, I only feel angry the old shill didn‘t live another year or two so he’d have to face a “death panel” before kicking it. The old bastrd died too soon to reap what he helped sow. I feel cheated that we’ll never get to hear him lament his decision to be a wh0re for the socialist DNC. — Wool-Free Vision

    Another dead Democrat…today’s shaping up to be a better day than expected. — teddrunk

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] days ago in Detroit. It’s really fascinating… kind of like a perfect mashup of Trump, Lonesome Rhodes, and President […]

  2. […] on Un-American Activities in 1952, ending many a promising career in Hollywood.] As I said back in 2012, upon hearing that Andy Griffith, who portrayed the character of “Lonesome” Rhodes, had […]

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